Are you the parent of a teen? Is your parenting being tested to the limit?
It’s not uncommon to hear parents of teenagers complain about sudden changes in behaviour and a lack of preparedness when it comes to parenting skills. There are plenty of reasons why this can happen.
Teenagers are renowned for becoming more argumentative, rebellious or increasingly withdrawn and self-isolating, and with hormones raging, behaviour can swing from extremes in the blink of an eye. You may find your teenager is experimenting with drugs, alcohol and sex, and is finding it more difficult to communicate in an open, honest and frank way.
Many parents faced with the difficult behaviour of teens simply grit their teeth, button down the hatches and see it as a period of life they just have to struggle through. How many times have you heard, ‘Oh my teenagers were like that – it’s hormones – just stick in there, they’ll come through it eventually’?
According to Jean-Claude Chalmet, parenting teens doesn’t have to be a storm that has to be weathered. In a recent interview, Jean-Claude shared his thoughts on why parents find it so difficult to maintain a connection with their teenage children.
To listen to the full interview – click here.
Fear of vulnerability
Many parents are afraid to show their vulnerability because they equate it with weakness. But, shielding children from emotional vulnerability doesn’t help them. Hiding our pain and being stoic with our children sends the message that only positive emotions are acceptable.
The teenage years are confusing. Children can feel overwhelmed by the emotional and physical changes they are experiencing. It is a time of transition and there is a lot for adolescents to process.
It is a time when children begin to separate from their parents. This can throw up a lot of uncomfortable subconscious feelings for parents.
Jean-Claude explains that every adult has an inner child – this is the child that we once were, residing in our subconscious mind. It has both negative and positive aspects.
The negative aspects of the inner child are formed from unmet needs and suppressed emotions. These can feed self-doubt in adulthood. Parents have to learn to manage their internal critic. This is the voice chirping in your ear saying, “you’re not good enough” or “you shouldn’t have done this or that.”
Fear and anger from secondary emotions covers something that we dare not talk about, which is hurt. Jean-Claude explains, “this is because we don’t want to, or can’t for whatever reason, show that vulnerability.”
Suppressed hurt is often exacerbated in parents when their children become teens because teenagers start to seek validation from their peer group or friends. Parents become redundant. This, Jean-Claude says, “triggers a fear of rejection and abandonment. It can make parents feel surplus to requirements and is a powerful force that will feed the inner critic with gourmet meals.
“Our children can sense this emotional imbalance and will milk it for everything it’s worth. But, we are still supposed to be the adult in the room. No matter how much anger, shouting or disruptive behaviour your teenager throws at you, they ultimately just want to feel loved. They are reacting violently, but they are not deliberately trying to hurt you. These are reactions to try and get your attention and seek assurance.
“It is only your inner critic that will make you feel terrible. When your teenager acts out, they are testing you. It might trigger a lot of stuff inside you, but you have to be the adult and not fall into the trap of acting out your own pain.”
“Your teenager might tap into a world of hurt inside you, but they aren’t responsible for that.” This is something separate you as a parent need to take responsibility for.
When we are fearful of engaging with own inner child, it gets in the way of being the parent who can listen, show genuine love, compassion and empathy.
What is your emotional age?
As a parent, it is useful to reflect on what you think your emotional age is. Jean-Claude has found in his years of practice that people are intellectually aligned with their actual age or even beyond their years, but emotionally it is a different story.
He says people find it difficult to answer the question ‘How old are you emotionally?” Often men in particular struggle to answer this, so he asks them “What would your wife or partner say?” The reply is often around 15-17.
In a partnership, Jean-Claude explains, “a person opposite is expecting someone to interact with them both on an intellectual and emotional level, but what do you do when you have a 42-year-old intellectual person who can reason and rationalise, but who has the emotions of a teenager?”
Having children can create a very big conflict for parents and within the marriage. But especially so during the teenage years, when a parent’s inner child can be triggered. It is so common for parents to find themselves in this predicament.
How can you tell a teenager what to do when you yourself are still at that stage? Your teenager is looking to be held, counselled and moved forwards. This is why, Jean-Claude says, parenting teenagers can be “a total tinderbox.”
It is really no wonder parents feel lost. It’s not their fault that they were emotionally stunted at a particular age, but Jean-Claude says, we are then recreating a trauma in the teenager. The cycle is repeated generation after generation.
Communication and love
“Even the most hardened criminal becomes softer when you show love. They may not become total lambs, but when you show genuine love, compassion, empathy, and understanding, they become softer.”
There are no perfect parents. There are just human parents. We will all make mistakes. Even with the best intentions and even if we read every book on parenting, we will still make mistakes because that is part of life.
All too often we find ourselves consumed by fear. We feel anxious when we hear our teenager is experimenting with drugs or alcohol. But, Jean-Claude says, “When we are consumed by fear there is little space for love. We have to be very aware of that.”
We can make a choice when we see our teenager stomping off. If we think ‘my child is in terrible pain’ we won’t have the same reaction. You wouldn’t scream, shout and punish them if you were thinking ‘my child is hurting so much’.
What can you do?
When Jean-Claude says “If you act in a different way, you might get a different reaction” it seems so simple. But what, practically, can you do?
When the pressure is on and doors are being slammed, Jean-Claude advises parents to knock on their child’s bedroom door and simply ask permission to go inside. He says “go in sit down and don’t say anything. Always remember, this isn’t about you. It is about you offering 100 percent of your love and attention.”
The most important thing is to tell your children, “I have always loved you. I love you. And I will always love you.” These are the most magical, impressive words to a child because that’s what they want to hear.
Start by recognising your inner child and simply remember that anger is an expression of emotional pain. Treat your angry teen in exactly the same way as you would a child who is upset and hurt. You can read more about this in our next blog – Parenting Teenagers Part 2: Understanding the Hurt Beneath the Anger.